Hunt for Skibblers and Crystallite as you follow in the path of Huck and Fern at Hobbledown.
Hobbledown is a wonderful day out with a difference. If you’re looking for a quirky fun-filled day out in the South East of England that caters mostly for primary aged children, then this one is for you.
Once a children’s farm park, Hobbledown includes some fun and different animal experiences (Racoon Dog anyone?) with adrenalin filled high ropes and climbing poles, with a magical playground of wonky towers inter-linked with sky high tubes and underground tunnels. There is a huge sanded area, the Crystallite Mine, where Early Birds can hunt for treasure (Crystallite) to gain a lollipop reward. Other fun outdoor play areas include a swinging basket, bouncing pillows and the Hobblers Market – a sandy jumble of rooms, boxes, and imaginary play. There is also a slightly neglected and out of the way willow maze.
If that’s not enough there are often tee-pee story telling puppet shows, face painting and animal encounters. There is also a large indoor Play Barn which whilst incorporating your traditional hell on earth soft play also has an indoor maze, wooden play areas, and quirky imaginary play scenes.
Boo, Pip and Bug love Hobbledown, as do we. We love its quirky and unique nature. However, there are a few downsides. It’s costs, the play barn, and it’s definitely not the most disabled friendly place.
The ASD Verdict: Boo, as having a registered disability, was entitled to half price with a free carer, so top notch there on going above and beyond the norm there Hobbledown. Owing to advance planning we got there early as quiet works best for Boo, and so we avoided troublesome ‘queue’ or busy spots in the outside areas this way, so didn’t really ‘test’ how or if staff would have helped if we came a cropper. There is plenty for the older child here – the play areas and high ropes are definitely aimed for older children, and this is great. Boo absolutely LOVES Hobbledown. However, the lack of time slots for the Play Barn on a busy Saturday made the Play Barn extremely NOT ASD friendly. Combined with mum in the wheelchair, he was struggling with the chaos. If we’d been able to ‘park’ ourselves sooner he wouldn’t have struggled.
The Wheelchair Verdict: Not so good here Hobbledown, at all. The wheelchair ramped areas are often too steep, too narrow, have a difficult camber, or even bloody stepped bits of concrete. The paths around the whole site are strewn with gravel, stones, and rubber (from play areas) that make self-propulsion near impossible and exhausting. Fortunately I was on a fairly ‘good’ day so was able to cope with getting in and out of the chair to get around obstacles throughout the day and still have a full day of it. If it’d been a ‘bad’ day we’d have either had to cut the entire day short, or just parked me up in one place to miss the family fun. Kiwi Husband’s arms were killing from pushing on difficult ground.
Then there was the Play Barn. Absolute Hell-On-Earth in a wheelchair. Without time slots it was crazy in there. It took us over 10 minutes to find a place to sit, see above for the ASD ramifications of this. Owing to our unique situation we weren’t in the best position for nabbing a table and we were frequently pipped at the post by several other desperate, but more physically able, families. Several Hobbledown staff walked past us – Mum in a wheelchair with a clearly struggling ASD boy – and didn’t offer to help. Kiwi Dad eventually found a table but we couldn’t get the wheelchair there! The gaps between the tables are too small even if, owing to how busy it was, there weren’t whole parties of mums and babies strewn over the remaining floor space. Eventually a dad and his son, another paying customer, took pity on us and he gave us his table on the edge, whilst cramming himself on to one corner. We parked up, as best we could. I then endured 1.5 hours of wheelchair hell. I had people try to move my chair, with me in it, without asking. I had people standing right over me chatting, as if I didn’t exist. And I must have been bumped in to and jolted, about fifty times, including by staff as well as other adults and children (forgivable them!). Not fun. Yes, I was stuck in a ‘pathway’ but what else could I do given the layout? But hey, I do it for the kids, right? Hobbledown… I think you need to have a little think about how you can make the Play Barn more disabled friendly…
Nonetheless, the disabled downsides didn’t spoil a truly wonderful family day out, they just made for some real tough spots which could have been avoided with some Hobbledown forethought. We love how quirky and different Hobbledown is, we love its story theming, we love the play areas and the sense of magic and wonder and fun. It’s a memorable place, one that feeds in to the heart of childhood joy, and for that it gets our thumbs up.